February – A week in the Scottish Highlands
This blog post was originally published on the 22nd June 2018.
For our second housesit we were lucky enough to find a log cabin nestled in the middle of a peaceful Scottish croft in the highlands, looking after 2 English Shepherds (Geo and Trix) and 4 cats (Fini, Humbug, Sloe and Fiddle) for a week at the beginning of February. Geo was a relaxed and gentle giant, whereas the younger Trix was full of energy and wanted to play all the time! Trix was always trying to get our attention or tugging on Geo’s ears to make him play with her. The cats were more independent and spent most of their time outdoors, though they’d return home at 5pm on the dot each evening for feeding time! Fiddle, the eldest of the cats, warmed to us from day one and spent many hours purring happily on our laps.
The long drive to the highlands
We made sure that we left a couple of days in between our Lake District housesit and this housesit as we wanted to take a bit more of a leisurely drive but also because it was bloody miles away! We planned a couple of stop overs, and the first was in Loch Lomond. We arrived at our lovely B&B in good time and had a short walk around town, visiting the loch before we found somewhere for dinner. The next morning we set off on the next leg of the trip, which was a shorter part of the journey, but more scenic.
First we passed through Glencoe, which is absolutely stunning. It was the beginning of February, so it was very cold and there was snow all around, luckily there are many lay-bys that you can pull into and get great views without having to get out of the car! Parts of Skyfall were filmed here and Chris kept pointing out areas which he recognised. We wish we could have spent a bit more time here, taking in all the scenery and doing some nice long walks up the mountains to get even better views.
Chris had a little surprise in store for Suze for the next stop off. Suze is a big Harry Potter fan and lots of the movies were filmed in Scotland. Chris set up a bit of a detour to visit the Glenfinnan viaduct, which is where they filmed parts of the Hogwarts Express travelling to Hogwarts. This was not the end of our scenic tour, as we then drove back through Fort William and past Ben Nevis (which was unfortunately shrouded in fog) and then up through the Cairngorns to our last stopover at a B&B in Aviemore.
The final leg of the journey was from the B&B in Aviemore, across Scotland to Lochinver. It began to feel really remote up here – the roads slowly emptied and the snow started falling -but the roads were beautiful. We passed countless mountains, lakes and dams and hardly saw another soul. We stopped off at a town called Ullapool which was our last real chance to stop off at a supermarket and get supplies for our week. Once we stocked up we were just an hour away from the cabin. The final leg of the drive was the most scenic part since Glencoe. The roads were very quiet, and we only drove through a handful of tiny villages. We stopped a couple of times on the side of the road to look at the hoards of deer and stags, with their mighty antlers, roaming free. Just outside of Lochinver was the loch of Assynt, which is where our Scottish hosts have a fishing business and we can see why – it is a gorgeous loch! We peeled off the main road and soon saw our first glimpse of the wood cabin and croft that we would be staying in.
After a long day of driving through snowy Scotland we turned onto a track where ducks and chickens scattered as we drove, before arriving at our home for the week – a gorgeous hand-built log cabin! Our host family greeted us and helped us with our belongings before taking us on a tour around the croft. We climbed a steep path of hand-built stairs fashioned into the hillside, passing a half-finished ‘hobbit house’ on the way that the hosts had built using planks of disused wood in varying sizes. At the top of the steps, Geo and Trix began bounding through tall, rolling heather to show us to the very top of the croft, marked by a Scottish flag. From there we could see towering, snow-capped mountains in the East, and all the way over to Achmelvich Bay in the West. As we began our descent, Geo and Trix spotted some wild deer and went for a chase! Over our time at the croft we saw these deer many times, grazing amongst wildflowers or running through the trees. We spent our first evening at the log house enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by our generous hosts, who spent time telling us about their lives and how they often take in hitchhikers and travellers from all over the world, in order to provide their 8-year-old son with a diverse view of life beyond the croft. The following morning we chatted over breakfast, before waving them goodbye and setting out for our first day of exploring!
Achmelvich Bay or the Mediterranean?
Our first full day in Lochinver was a lovely sunny day, so what better place to explore than the beach just down the road from the cabin. This was still Scotland in February so it was very, very cold! As we stepped onto the beach, the sand crunched beneath our feet as it was still frozen – a very weird feeling! However if you couldn’t feel the cold and didn’t know it was Scotland this beach could have been on a seaside resort in the Mediterranean! The sand was white, and the water was some of the bluest we have ever seen!
We headed off for a little walk around the headland to get some better views of the bay, where we saw a tiny building nestled into the hillside. This building was the Hermit Castle, which has been described as “Europe’s smallest castle”. It was built in the 1950s and later abandoned, and is now just a bothy on the headland. We then headed up to the highest point above the bay and sat down admiring the view and the peacefulness of the area.
Around the croft
Over our time at the croft we must have experienced every kind of weather! The conditions changed within minutes and we would often see hail, snow, high winds, sun and rain in the same hour. Luckily Geo and Trix didn’t mind and loved a walk around the croft regardless of the weather! Halfway through our stay we managed to have a day where, even though it was overcast, there was minimal wind and Chris went out with the drone to take some photos of our house from the sky! Geo and Trix were less pleased – both were confused by the sound and kept beady eyes on the drone as it flew over them! Other days we would just finish a brisk walk around the croft before pouring rain set in for the day and hail flew in from all directions. On these days we snuggled by the fire with the cats at our feet, playing games with Geo and Trix indoors or just admiring the snow as it drifted past the window.
As the croft was so remote there was absolutely no light pollution in the surrounding area, which made for pitch black nights. Late one evening we went for a walk in the dark, photographing the starry skies above our beautiful fire-lit home. Though we didn’t manage to see the Northern Lights, which wouldn’t have been unusual at that time of year, we enjoyed the tranquility of a black blanket sky and stargazing in complete silence.
Old Man of Stoer and Stoer lighthouse
After a couple of days of being stuck in the cabin because of the bad weather we decided we needed to get out – you could say we had cabin fever! One of the walks our hosts had told us about was at the Old Man of Stoer, a sea stack just off the coast. The weather was still a bit poor, but it was dry so we headed up the coast and parked near the Stoer lighthouse. The lighthouse is operational and you can even stay in the lighthouse cottages. Of course we picked a great day to visit the coastline – the wind was absolutely battering the cliffs as we started our walk, but we persisted along the boggy cliffside walk. After Chris telling Suze it was only a little bit further for the last hour we finally made it to the Old Man of Stoer. As we headed back we realised that we were now walking into the wind, which we struggled through and eventually made it to an old wind shelter where took a little breather. Luckily the wind died down and we managed to get back to the car – albeit cold and ready for a nice, warm evening in front of the fire!
On one of our last days in Assynt we took Geo for a walk to Kirkaig Falls in Lairg. We walked stony paths over rolling hills to admire views of the surrounding mountains, before making a steep descent to the falls which were gushing with water from days of heavy rain and snow. We took a rest down a mossy, rocky track to admire the falls from below with Geo, who sat at our feet and watched the flowing waters. Geo lead the way on our walk back, expertly navigating the boggy paths where unfortunately both of us got stuck! Chris managed to pull himself free before helping Suze, who was about to lose their welly boot in the mud! When we returned home, Fini was miaowing impatiently at us as it was five past dinner time! When we got inside the house the gang assembled in a crowd, as they did every day at dinner time, and ate while we both relaxed in the lounge.
Our second housesit ended up being a bit more leisurely than our first housesit in the Lake District, possibly only because the weather was worse than we anticipated which meant we had to spend a lot of time indoors! Though when you’re living in a remote log cabin at the foot of rolling hills, there are worse places to be stuck inside! We enjoyed having a bit of a rest after our daily mountain hikes in January and spent a lot of time curled up together in the warmth of the fire, simply enjoying being in our cosy home where the only sound was that of falling rain or Geo’s snoring! We’d definitely like to visit Scotland again on our travels, though maybe in more agreeable weather so we can get out and explore!